Shed Building Tips

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Shed Building Tips

Leaping over the lawnmower, side-stepping golf clubs, squeezing between bikes and barbecues-it was a perilous path through the garage to my pickup truck. But I had resigned myself to such gymnastics. At least until that day I parked my foot on the side of the kitty litter box.

Brushing its contents from the backs of my legs, I began pondering my garage clutter problem. I concluded I could (a) shoot the cat, (b) banish our cars to the driveway, (c) rent a storage unit 20 minutes away, or (d) move stuff out to the side yard and throw a blue plastic tarp over it.

Instead, I built a shed.

A shed may sound like a quaint proposition for today’s homesteads. Current backyard architectural trends celebrate spas, gazebos, or pergolas. But not knowing what exactly a pergola was, or whether it would hold a lawnmower, I thought a shed seemed more appropriate.

I found that shed-building can be approached several ways. You can tootle down to the hardware store and study the prefabricated models-those metal huts and wood kits with pre-cut boards. An 8-foot-by-10-foot sheet-steel shed that you can stand up in runs about $300. While it assembles easily in a few hours with minimal tools, there are drawbacks. Steel sheds don’t come with a foundation or flooring, and you’ll need to purchase accessories if you want to hang stuff on the walls. I’ve observed that they’re also prone to dents, rust, and flights into your neighbors’ backyards if a good wind comes up. I wouldn’t expect one to last, or look good anyway, much beyond five years.

A prefab cedar-wood shed of the same dimensions costs twice as much. Again, you have to come up with the foundation. And wood kits vary in degree of prefabiness. Some come with all the boards cut, others with just the instructions, metal connectors, and cutting templates. You buy the wood on the materials list. Roofing often isn’t provided with kits. For a top-end wood shed package, you can spend up to $6,000.

A shed kit may save you some time and labor, but I don’t view either as critical issues in shed building. Shed construction is, for the most part, recreational. For a cost of between $500 and $700, you can enjoy designing and constructing, from scratch, a custom outbuilding that blends with your home and doesn’t blight the backyard. Moreover, you get to strap on a work belt, bang big nails, and make your skill saw scream. It’s a chance to build a house without the mess, inconvenience, and suffering of building the real thing.

Summer is prime time for shed-building. Plug away at it weekends and weeknights, and you’ll have it finished in time to tuck the lawnmower, hoses, and yard gear away this autumn.

Location and design

No two backyards are exactly alike, so it will be up to you-and maybe the local building department-to determine the fitting scale and location for your shed. If you’re planning something sizable-anything over 120 square feet-local code officials and your neighbors probably want to know about it.

Pick a flat site if possible. And, no matter how handsome you plan to make it, be sure your shed is accessible without dominating the landscape.

For design ideas, consult books and magazine Links that offer photos and construction diagrams. Specific topics to consider include windows, doors, roof style, siding material, and electricity and plumbing.

For instance, natural light is always nice, but windows usurp wall space. A skylight might work better. Double doors allow more light inside and are practical for moving lawnmowers and bikes in and out. Running underground wire to the shed for lights and power offers great benefits.


Unless you require a shed that sits almost at ground level, skip the concrete slab. Pouring slab adds grunt work to the project. And, if you want to remove the shed and use the site for something else, you have a large hunk of concrete you might have to break up.

Here are three foundation schemes to consider:


Set the entire structure on 4×4 pressure-treated posts at each corner. Dig post holes about two feet deep and anchor with concrete. Posts should rise to wall height. A framework of floor joists fastens to the posts and should sit about six inches off the ground. The post technique works well on a sloped site.

Pier blocks:
Instead of posts, set your shed on 4×4- or 4×6-inch girders sitting above ground on concrete pier blocks„those hefty little cubes used to support deck posts. A framework of floor joists rests on and is toenailed to the girders.

I built my shed on skids, the easiest method and one that leaves your shed closer to the ground. Just lay two 6×6 or 6×8 pressure-treated timbers under opposite shed walls and partially sink them in dug-out beds of 3/4-inch gravel. Level the timbers and attach the floor-joist framework directly to them.

Once you have a foundation, work your way up. Depending on the width of the shed, frame the floor with 2×6 or 2×8 joists. Build standard 2×4 stud walls. Cut rafters out of 2×6 roof stock. Three-quarter-inch plywood makes a solid floor. I’d use galvanized nails throughout the construction, to avoid rust.

If you haven’t framed before, read up on putting in headers for doors and windows and on cutting rafters. Any basic carpentry text covers these common techniques. They’re not tough. Just take your time and enjoy swinging the hammer. Remember to check routinely for level, plumb, and square as you work.

Adding the roof and walls
Please, no green corrugated fiberglass shed roofs. Start by adding fascia boards around the roof edge. Then cover the rafters with 1/2-inch CDX plywood, install any skylights, roll out felt paper, and install flashing and roofing material. If you have composition tab roofing on your house, try to match the color. Cedar shingles or shakes are more expensive but, if you’re trying to match the house, the number needed for a shed won’t blow the budget.

If you’re using lap or single siding on your shed, first cover the stud walls with 1/2-inch CDX plywood, install any windows, and staple 15-pound felt paper over the sheathing. If you’re using 5/8-inch textured wood siding with grooves in it (known as T-1-11), you don’t really need to mess with sheathing for a shed. Just nail it directly to the studs.
Finishing touches

Make double doors using 2×4 stock for the frame and plywood siding for the doors. Hang them so they open out. Know what sort of hinges and hardware you plan to use before you build. Buying pre-hung double doors is a more expensive alternative.

Trim and paint:
Cut and install trim around doors, windows, and corners. In some cases, you’ll do this before you install the siding. Again, match the house if you’re trying to blend in. Caulk around trim work and paint or stain.

Since non-slab foundations tend to raise the floor of a shed, you may need to build a ramp up to the doorway so you can wheel the mower and bikes in and out.

Plant some bushes or flowers around the shed. Then get busy building that pergola.

–Doug Cooley